Published online by the Student Activist Network, 6 September 1999
Victoria, BC – Over 100 people turned out for a “welcoming party” in support of detained Chinese refugees Labour Day evening. Attendees partied on Clifton Terrace, a side-street adjacent to the military gymnasium in which 190 refugees from the third “illegal” ship are being quarantined.
Military police warned that canine units were on hand in the event that party-goers decided to hop the barbed-wire fencing separating the crowd from the gym.
Participants – including children and the elderly – brought donations of fresh fruit, food, and clothing, as well as a welcoming card bearing the signatures of 500 Victoria citizens. A Mandarin translator – Victoria resident Tek Siaw – relayed messages and speeches to the refugees via megaphone, as he had done two weeks earlier at a “welcoming party” for the second boatload of refugees.
The party was organized by the Community Coalition Against Racism, an umbrella group of 40 Victoria-area human-rights, labour, student, cultural, social-justice, and women’s organizations. The coalition has launched a campaign in support of the refugees, drawing attention to the racism and fear-mongering being incited by the media and groups such as the Reform Party and the far-right Canada First Immigration Reform Committee.
Two counter-demonstrators attempted to crash the party. One echoed the Times Colonist newspaper’s August 15 headline in bellowing “Go Home” as speakers extended words of welcome to the refugees. “We should shoot them all,” he later said, before being drowned out with the chant “Immigrants In, Racists Out!”
The second counter-demonstrator began the evening shouting “queue jumpers”. Following speeches describing the repressive conditions in China and the legality of seeking refuge in Canada, he abandoned this line of argument and demanded increased federal funding for immigration.
Speakers included Joan Russow, leader of the Green Party of Canada, and former Victoria mayor David Turner. Ali Yerevani, who made the trip from Vancouver on behalf of the city’s Coalition for the Rights of Immigrants and Refugees, brought solidarity greetings to the Victoria coalition and called for greater coordination between the two groups.
Envisioning “a world without borders,” Yerevani suggested the current anti-immigrant campaign is setting the stage for the ratification later this year of bill C-63. This legislation, proposed in the Chretien Liberal’s ‘White Paper’ on immigration, would give the federal government sweeping powers over refugees, immigrants and new citizens.
Throughout the evening, local musician and labour activist Art Farquharson wooed the crowd with stirring renditions of “Solidarity Forever,” “The Union Makes us Strong,” “The Internationale,” and “This Land is My Land, This Land is Your Land”.